VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday accepted the resignation of a Brazil archbishop accused of shielding sexually abusive priests.
The archbishop of Paraiba, Monsignor Aldo di Cillo Pagotto, 66, resigned under the article of canon law that allows bishops to retire early for "grave" reasons that make them unfit for office. Francis appointed an administrator to run the archdiocese until a permanent replacement is found.
In a farewell letter, Pagotto admitted he had made mistakes and that he had accepted into the archdioceses priests and seminarians who had committed "serious errors." He blamed his own "merciful ingenuousness" and said he did so because he wanted to give them a second chance.
Francis recently issued new procedures to oust bishops who shield pedophiles, amid an outcry from victims' groups that bishops have long escaped punishment for moving abusers around rather than reporting them to police. The new procedures don't go into effect until September, meaning Pagotto was forced out under existing procedures in place at the Vatican's office for bishops.
Italian news agency ANSA said the Vatican in 2015 sent an envoy to Paraiba to investigate and that as a preliminary sanction, Pagotto was prohibited from ordaining priests and deacons or welcoming in any priests or seminarians who had been expelled from other dioceses.
At the time of the Vatican intervention, Brazilian media reported on a letter from a parishioner alleging Pagotto had had sexual relations with an 18-year-old man, the Zenit Catholic news agency reported. Zenit said Pagotto successfully had the news reports deleted from internet searches.
In his farewell letter, Pagotto blasted what he called defamatory news reports that he said had distorted and divided the church.
Pagotto was one of the arch-conservative authors of a question-and-answer booklet released during the 2014-2015 Vatican meeting on the family that insisted on church doctrine on such hot-button issues as homosexuality, marriage and divorce. In a 2015 report on the book, ANSA cited the authors' response to the issue of homosexuality by saying that gay unions were sinful and "against nature" and telling gays to refrain from sex.